We stayed in Amsterdam prior to the cruise. We did the hop-on, hop-off bus and the canal bout tour. The bus tour was very interesting. We did get off the bus and tour Gasson diamonds. There we were given a description of how the diamonds are cut and how much is lost in the cutting. We watched diamond cutters shape diamonds and then were shown some diamonds and told of the different classifications, clarity, color, cut and carat.
The canal tour was also very interesting. The tour took about an hour.
We took the HAL transfer from Amsterdam to the ship. Ijmuiden is a 50 to 60-minute ride from the city. Boarding was very easy, check-in at the terminal and then go through customs and security.
We arrived at the ship at 12:15 PM. We took a short tour of the ship and then unpacked our luggage. The ship left the dock around 5:00 PM. We were in the crow’s nest during the departure. The first 20 minutes of the trip was very calm and smooth. Once we got into open water we rocked and rolled for the remainder of the evening.
The ship is the smallest ship in the HAL line. Because of this, one gets to know the staff and fellow passengers. Most of the crew are friendly and helpful. The ship is old and is showing its age. The furnishing in our room are dated. Some of the drawers open and close smoothly and some have to be forced to fully close. The third day from the end of our trip, one drawer broke and couldn't be used. The water pressure in our room, 006, was low and at times, the shower just dribbled water. We were on the ship for 4 weeks and during that time, we had one unexpected water (toilet) outage and 3 planned outages. After each water outage, the pressure in our room was less than before the outage.
Because the ship is small, the passageways are narrow. Also, to get from the front of the ship to the back on the 7th floor dining area, one has to pass through a main dining area to get to the reservation desk. To avoid this, we started going to the 8th floor and traveling to the back stairs to go down to the dining entrance. But this also has its challenges. If there is a performer in the Explorer’s lounge, then one has to pass in front of the performer to get to the other side. The lounge is too small to have a walkway that is not through the middle of the lounge.
Food – the main ding room food was very good. On our first half of the trip, the service was prompt and accurate. For the first few days on the second part of our trip, the service was slow. This was due to an almost total change out of the dining staff. The service did improve after a few days. The Pinnacle Grill was excellent. Friendly and attentive staff, knowledgeable wine steward and great chef. The food was very tasty. We did not go to the Le Cirque night but friends of ours did go. They were not impressed with the venue. They did state the food was very good but not worth the extra cost. Remember the small ship comment, the Pinnacle is next to the dance floor and the noise from this venue was too loud so it is hard to enjoy a meal when the band is playing. We did try the Dive In next to the pool. The hamburgers and fries were very tasty. We would have liked the “Dive In” to stay open longer so we could get a burger for dinner if we wanted something other than the main dining room option or the Lido (more to follow on the Lido). I know we could go to the Lido and get a light dinner, but the food there was less than desirable. Lastly, the Lido. The food was not good. There are two sides to the Lido and since the ship is small, each side had different offerings. So, in order to find what was on the menu, you have to walk both sides first and then determine where to start. Once you get your food, you find some is not eatable. The staff at the Lido are not helpful and if you wanted something prepared at one of the specialty stations, it was difficult to find someone to help. The staff was also limited at the Lido.
Clocks, they are few and far between. There is no ship clock in the staterooms and if you miss the time change announcement, then you could miss your tour or be late for your plans. That happened on our sea day back to Amsterdam. There was no major announcement only a small sentence in the daily activities paper. I missed that and then also missed some activities planned for the day.
Edinburgh Highlights & Castle
• 8:45 AM – 1:30 PM
Today we visited the Edinburgh Castle. We were able to witness the changing of the guards. Unfortunately, Cathy was not able to see due to all of the people in front of her. The tour of the castle was cut short due to the changing of the guards. We only had about an hour to see all of the highlights. The line to see the Scottish crown jewels was too long so we did not get to see those. The tour guide/company did not supply any hearing devices so it was very difficult to hear her talking about the different structures in the complex. (We had a large tour group, 48) After the castle tour, we drove around the city and she pointed out several highlights. We went past the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book. We also went past the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Queen of England was in town to open an art gallery. We drove past the Queen’s residence, which is across the street from the Scottish parliament. After the city tour we returned to the ship. This tour would have been better if we could spend more time at the castle. The ship didn’t leave port until 6:00 PM, so there was plenty of time to expand the tour time. Suggestion would be to spend less time touring the city and more time at the castle and castle area.
Upon returning, we found the toilets were not functioning. This was a reminder of our first cruise (the cruise from hell) where most everything on the ship didn’t function. The repairs were made prior to the ship’s departure so all is well.
Loch Ness, Water Monsters & Highland Castles
• 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Today we toured two castles, one was in ruins and the other was well maintained. Our tour started at 9:30 AM and we returned to the ship around 5:30 PM. Our first stop was at the 14th-century Urquhart Castle, situated right on the edge of loch Ness. This is one of the most picturesque areas in Scotland. We saw the introductory film which gave the history of the castle and residents. After the film, we then walked through the ruins and saw the many areas of the castle. Sadly, the Loch Ness monster did not make an appearance. After, we departed for Kingsmills Hotel where we had a three course lunch, salad, chicken and vegetables and dessert. Lunch was very tasty.
After lunch, we then drove to the Culloden Battlefield. This windswept moorland is the site of the last battle on British soil -- a turning point in Scottish history. This was a short stop for us to see the battlefield and hear of the history of the area.
Our last stop was at Cawdor Castle -- a truly beautiful, traditional medieval (1454 A.D.) castle with exceptionally lovely gardens. This tour was well worth the money spent. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the entire area.
SKARA BRAE & SKAILL HOUSE
• 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Today is a cold blustery day in Kirkwall. We toured the Scottish area known as Orkney. This is a series of over 70 islands just north of the Scottish mainland. They are situated at the meeting point of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. We started our tour driving through Kirkwall. This is the main settlement in Orkney. After the city tour, we traveled to “the Standing Stones of Stenness”. This was originally a circle of stones of perhaps 12 monoliths. There are only a few that remain standing. Next we went to “The Ring of Brodgar”. This is an ancient stone monolith site. The stone circle originally was comprised of 60 megaliths, only 27 remain today. We spent about 30 minutes at this site.
Once we were all on the bus, we traveled to Skara Brae. This is a 5,000-year-old village. The village was discovered in 1850 after a violent storm. The site consists of at least 6 dwellings and a workshop. The houses are all joined by a street and buried in a mound of midden. We were able to spend a few hours at this site. We also toured Skaill House which is next to the Skara Brae site. The house dates from the 17th century. After touring the house, we all climbed back on the bus for the trip back to the ship. We arrived at the ship at about 12:15 PM. The tour was very interesting. There are other tour companies that offer the same tour for small private parties. I would recommend the smaller tour.
Iconic Eilean Donan Castle & the West Highlands
• 9:00 AM – 1:30 PM
Another damp dreary day in Scotland. We tendered in to Portree this morning for our trip to Eilean Donan castle. The castle is located about 60 minutes north of port. The bus was full today with little room between the seat rows.
Once at the castle, we were given an introductory talk about the history of the castle and the rebuilding of the castle that started in 1912. The rebuilding effort was completed in 1932. Lt. Col John MacRae-Gilstrap and his wife Ella MacRae restored the caste to have as a summer residence. It is still in use today by the family. It was rebuilt to the original style and architecture. We could not take any pictures in the castle. We toured several rooms. First was the “Billeting Room”, used for storage and as a billet for off-duty soldiers. On the next level up is the banquet hall. This large room contains many objects from the family and the past owners of the castle. Much of the furniture in the room is Chippendale or by Thomas Sheraton. The portraits on the walls depict members of the MacRae family. Other objects are from a collection of Jacobite items. We then toured the remainer of the castle on our own. We went upstairs to the bedrooms. We then descended to the kitchen. There we saw various pots and dishes used at the castle. There are many copper items both hanging from the ceiling and displayed on the shelves and walls. Next to the kitchen is the “scullery”. This area holds preserved goods and game birds. There was no refrigeration in the castle. We then went to the “hornwork” which is an area used to defend the castle. The hornwork enclosed the “great well” which supplied the water for the castle. After the castle tour we climbed back on the bus for the grueling one hour ride back to Portree. The tour guide was very good and kept us amused throughout our trip. This is the last port in Scotland, next we visit Ireland.
Scotland is a very beautiful country. Lots of hills and mountains, rivers and waterfalls. Everything is very green, probably because it rains all of the time and never gets warm.
A Stroll through Donegal Town
• 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM
We arrived on time after a rough night at sea. This is a small picturesque town on the west coast of Ireland. Breakfast was at the Pinnacle grill. The wait staff is now recognizing our normal order in the morning. We don’t have much planned for today. We will take a stroll through the town and learn of the history of the area. So, we went on the stroll and it was nothing that we expected. We thought we were going to stroll the town stopping at various points and the guide would explain the history and significance of the place. Unfortunately, it was raining when we arrived and we did not do any strolling. We did stand out in the cold rain trying to listen to the guide explain the significance of the ruined Abby. We then climbed back on the bus and were driven around the around the central square/circle several times. The guide pointed out some stores and sang “the bus goes around and round, the bus goes round and round” several times. Some were amused, others were not. The rain let up some and we were told to get off the bus and go to the Donegal castle.
We were not given any other direction other than to be back on the bus at 4:45 to start our trip back to the ship. The guide at the castle did a wonderful job explaining the history of the castle and the various inhabitants. After the castle tour, I asked one of the HAL guides what was next and he stated he didn’t know. So we left and walked through the town on our own. Since it had stopped raining, we went back to the Abby and walked around the grounds and cemetery. Too bad there wasn’t a guide to tell us about the area.
Belfast; Best of Antrim Coast & Giant's Causeway
• 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM
Today was another typical Irish day. We ate breakfast at the Pinnacle, another good meal. After breakfast, we prepared for out tour. We boarded the bus a little before 9:00 AM for our travel north on the Antrim coast. This was a very scenic drive, too bad there weren’t many photo stop opportunities. Both the driver and the guide did try to show us the highlights and slow the bus when we passed a scenic area. We passed several areas with old houses, churches and a castle. At the end of the Antrim coast tour, we stopped at a hotel for lunch. We had roast beef, potatoes, carrots and a popover. All were very good. After lunch, we traveled to “Giant’s Causeway” which is a large rock formation of pillars. We spent about two and a half hours at the site. We captured several good pictures and walked the formation. Fortunately, neither of us fell or twisted our ankle. We saw a short informational movie on the area and visited the information center. After the causeway, we traveled back to Belfast. Once at Belfast, we did a short bus tour of the Titanic area. The guide explained what the city was doing to improve the area and showed us several sites that have been created to honor the passengers on the Titanic. The Titanic and its two sister ships were built in Belfast.
Dublin's North Coast & Malahide Castle
• 1:45 PM – 6:45 PM
Today was beautiful day in Ireland. The sun was shining and the temperature was around 68◦ F. Cathy and I went to breakfast and then out on shore to have our picture taken. We like to have a picture of each port we visit. We spent the morning on board just laying around at the Crow’s Nest. This is located at the front of the ship on the top level, just a few steps from our cabin. After our rest, we departed on our tour. It was a drive to the Malahide Castle. This is a twelfth century castle built by the Talbot family. It has been in the Talbot family for over 800 years. In 1976, the city of Dublin purchased the grounds and castle from the family. The purchase price at the time was 650,000 Irish pounds. The purchase includes 78 acres of park and gardens as well as the castle. Rose Talbot was the last Talbot to live at the castle. She was the unmarried sister of Lord Milo Talbot. Lord Milo Talbot died in 1973 which led to the sale of the castle. Rose left Ireland in 1976 and traveled to another family residence in Tasmania, where she died in 2009. Rose was the last of the Talbot family. Okay, enough of the history. We toured several rooms of the castle. We went to the oak room; this room has intricacy carved walls which depict biblical scenes. Next we went to the small drawing room. This is on the ground floor of the west wing. This has an eighteenth century plaster ceiling. After that, we toured the large drawing room, which was used on formal occasions. In later years, it served as a family room. The room contains a fine woven Chinese carpet which was acquired in the 1950’s by Milo Talbot when he was a British Ambassador to Laos. The upstairs houses the family bedrooms. Each bedroom had a dressing room and storage area. The last room we toured was the great hall, which dates back to around 1400. This was the main common room of the castle. It was used as a dining room until 1976. There is a small balcony at one end of the room. We were told that musicians would entertain from that area during events.
We also toured the walled gardens, which is a 25-acre site. Due to time, we were not able to see all of the gardens.
After the castle and garden tour, we traveled along the coastal highway to Howth. A small town where we visited an Irish pub and enjoyed (at least I’m told) Irish coffee. We spent about 30 minutes at the pub. This gave us time to talk with others on the cruise and meet our fellow travelers. We then traveled back to the ship for an overnight stay at Dublin.
Ballyknocken House & Glendalough
• 8:45 AM – 2:15 PM
Today we headed south of Dublin to County Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland. We took a guided tour of the monastic ruins of Glendalough. Established by St Kevin in the 6th century, the ruined churches of the monastery are scattered around two lakes. The Irish translation of Glendalough is valley of two lakes. This is a very scenic area with many trees and hills. We passed through the “Gateway” to the main monastic city. After passing through the gates, we came upon graves of the local population. We walked to the “Cathedral” which is the largest building at the settlement. The building dates to 900 – 1000 A.D., with later additions dating to 1100 – 1200 A.D. Next to the cathedral is the “Priests’ House”. The name was given to the house because it was a burial place for priest of the area in the 19th century. It is assumed the original purpose of the building was a mortuary chapel where the remains of holy men would have been laid out for the faithful to pay their respects. Down the hill from the priest’s house is St. Kevin’s church. This church dates from the later 1100s A.D. The entire church is made of stone, including the roof. From here, we could see the “Round Tower”. This dates to the early 1100’s A.D. It features symmetrical features, tapering walls and a conical cap. The tower is also made entirely of stone. The tower was used as a bell tower and possibly for grain storage. The tower is just over 100 feet in height. The diameter at the base is 16 feet, tapering to 13.45 feet at the top. We viewed “St. Mary’s, Our Lady’s Church” from a distance. We did not travel to the church due to time considerations. We could have spent the rest of our time here and not travel to the Ballyknocken Country House farm, but alas, we had to get back on the bus and go.
At the Ballyknocken Country House farm and cookery, we sat through a cooking demonstration of scones. We were told to go outside and walk the grounds while the scones were in the oven and once they were done, we would come back inside to sample the scones. What a disappointment! I guess they were surprised with the number of people on the tour. There were 34 of us and they had a set up for 20. Since we were some of the last to come back, we were part of the 14 people without a place to sit. Oh, but once they realized they didn’t have enough seating, they set up another table for 8. Well that still left 6 of us with nowhere to go. We decided to leave the building and walk the grounds since we didn’t want to have cold scones and nowhere to sit. I guess we still have the big “L” on our heads – “NO SCONES FOR YOU!” This part of the excursion was a total waste of our time.
Did I tell you about our guide? She was a very bubbly person, very opinionated. She told of her country’s wows and how badly the vote for “Brexit” was. She went on and on about the recession of 2008. How her children and their children and so on would have to pay for the bad judgement of their elected officials.
Exmoor National Park & Devonshire Cream Tea
• 9:15 AM – 12:45 PM
Today is a tender day. The sea is rough so the ride into shore was a little bouncy. It is a foggy damp day in England. Our 45-minute ride to Exmoor National Park was true, but what the information didn’t say was we entered the park after riding for 45 minutes then there was another hour or so of travel to get to Lynton, the small village where we stopped for “Devonshire Cream Tea”. The big “L” on our foreheads is still present. The PA system on the bus was not functioning so we spent 15 - 20 minutes sitting on the hot non-ventilated bus while they tried to resolve the problem. Once they determined they couldn’t fix the system, we started our journey. We reached the National Park but nothing was said by the guide. It was so foggy we couldn’t see anything more than about 50 feet from the bus. So, from the tour description; “Exmoor covers 267 square miles and is a scenic area of high rolling moorland and farmland. Dotted across this wild, natural place is a vibrant collection of varied and inspiring landscapes, as well as farmsteads, villages and hamlets where the people who shaped Exmoor have lived and worked for generations. The park lies on top of a huge sandstone plateau, split by deep combes (wooded valleys) creating some of England’s most dramatic scenery. The road leads across the center of the moor, where you’ll enjoy peaceful, open spaces, heather-clad vistas, ancient forests and sparkling streams. You may catch glimpses of the unique and rare breed of Exmoor pony or the large herds of red deer that roam freely here.” The tour company can’t control the weather so all we could do is sit on the bus through the winding up and down roads and hope we didn’t get car sick. Once at Lynton, we had tea or coffee and found out the “Devonshire Cream” is like butter and is spread on the scones. The tea was regular tea where one could add milk. The scones were good so that was a plus. We had about 15 minutes in town after tea to explore. We were able to make our way back to the bus in time to leave stopping at one shop to buy some mints.
Next we traveled to the village of Combe Martin. We were given 30 minutes on our own to explore this picturesque village. We then got back on the bus and drove back to Ilfracombe. We were dropped off in town and told to walk back to the pier. This was unexpected bot to us and the tour guide. Our guide expected that we would be taken back to the pier. We did make it back and found our way to the tenders. The ride back to the ship was even worse than the morning ride, but we made it safely back. It would have been nice if the PA system had worked so that our guide could tell us about the area.
Stonehenge & Salisbury
• 10:00 AM – 6:30 PM
Wow! The day started off perfect. Clear sunny skies and mild temperature. We arrived in port a few minutes early. This is a natural harbor that has been enhanced with stone walls around the entrance. The stone walls were constructed in the early 1800’s by French prisoners of war. There were two openings to the harbor, but during the first world war, a battleship was purposely sunk at one of the entrances to keep out the enemy. We started our day with a trip to Salisbury. This is a medieval city. We visited the 13th-century cathedral. It was originally a Catholic cathedral, but later when England established their own church, it was converted to a protestant church. The church spire is the tallest spire in England. Inside, our guide explained the various areas of the church. We found out through our guide that the church was built in a relatively short time, 38 years. Because of this, the architecture of the church is consistent throughout. After the church tour, we were taken to a room where one of only four remaining Magna Cartas reside. This is a large room with many displays of the history of the document. There is a small room where the document is displayed.
After the tour through Salisbury, we continued on to Stonehenge. We spent about two hours at the site. The audio tour was excellent. Stonehenge is Europe's most famous prehistoric monument, built around 3000 B.C. There is a new visitor’s center with many artifacts from the area and from the area where the Anthropologists believe the people that built Stonehenge lived.
After visiting Stonehenge, we traveled back to our ship. Our guide was very knowledgeable about all of the areas traveled today. Our bus driver lives in Portland so he was able to tell us about his town and he also took us around the town prior to going to the ship. He took us to the highest point on the island. That was an amazing view. We didn’t have enough time to stop and get off the bus, but it was well worth the trip. Best tour so far on out trip.
Guernsey Island Drive
• 9:45 AM – 12:45 PM
Well, another wonderful day. Today we took a drive around the island. Our guide/bus driver was very good at pointing out the various features of the island. Our first stop was at a small chapel, St. Andrew’s. The chapel was undergoing renovations and we weren’t able to see the outside of the chapel. There was a small shop at the end of the lane where we were able to find a postcard with pictures of the chapel. After the chapel, we traveled west on the island to a small gold and silversmith shop. There were many items of interest, but we did not purchase anything today. The owner and silversmith talked to us about the various projects they have done and some of the repair jobs they get. A customer brought in a small silver pitcher for repairs. He stated it looked familiar, and when he looked at the hallmarks, he found he had made the piece about 30 years ago. They also made several pieces for Charles and Diane’s wedding. This allowed him to incorporate a “crown” hallmark. Today, he was making a silver Guernsey cow cream picture. He said it takes several weeks to complete one and he is barely able to keep up with demand. We traveled to the west coast of the island where we were able to get a drink and see the many sights alone the coast. On our drive back, the driver explained some of the history of the German occupation during WW2. The island was spared any allied invasion since it held no strategic value. The island was occupied by the German forces for five years. There are many bunkers around the island that were erected during that time period. There are also many 18th and 19th century bunkers on the island. After the tour, we found our way to the tender and traveled back to the ship. This was a good easy tour albeit the bus was not comfortable.
Windmills & Edam
• 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM
Arrived in Amsterdam earlier than scheduled. It’s a beautiful day, sunny skies and warm temperature. We started our tour in Zaanse Schans, a small mill village. The village had shops, windmills and a cheese factory. First we visited the wooden/clog shoe factory. We were given a demonstration on how they are made. They showed us the handmade way, then the new way using machines. We were told the machines are very old but still used today to make the shoes. We then went to a working windmill. At this mill they ground limestone to a power and also chopped “dye” wood that would be used to dye fabric. We were able to see all of the working parts of the mill and go upstairs to view the wooden gears and other working parts. Next we visited a cheese shop, Catharina Hoeve. There, a woman explained how cheese is made. She gave out samples and invited us to visit the shop where we could sample all the different types of cheese they make. In this shop, they make Edam and Gouda cheese with different flavors. They also make sheep and goat cheese. We did break down and buy several different types of cheese and a cheese grater.
Our next stop was at the village of Edam. Today, they had a festival and all of the farmers around the area were bringing their cheese into market. All of the cheese is brought to a central area where it is weighed and graded. Unfortunately, we only had a short amount of time in Edam and had to get back to the ship.
Overall, a very nice tour and day. Our ship left port around 5:00 PM and we will be sailing for the next day. Tomorrow is a sea day so we will have time to rest and meet the newbies.
Oslo Highlights & Viking Ships
• 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM
We arrived in Oslo around 9:00 A.M. and fully docked at 9:30 A.M. While traveling to Oslo, we were able to get some pictures of the Oslo fjord area in the morning. After breakfast we got on our tour bus and headed through the town. The guide was good at explaining the various highlights as we traveled to Vigeland Park. The park was built to exhibit the collection of sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland. The park depicts man’s life. He presents all of his sculptures(Man) in their daily life. Unfortunately, Gustav Vigeland died (1943) prior to the park’s completion (1947). All sculptures are nude except the one of the artist.
After we departed the park, we drove to the Viking ship museum. There were several Viking ships on exhibit. The ships I the museum were part of the “Borne mound” excavation. This was found and excavated in 1852. The first ship was found in 1867 (Tune), the next in 1880 (Gokstad) and finally the last ship (Oseberg) in 1904. The ships found were used at sea and later pulled ashore to be used as burial ships. The deceased were laid in a tomb on the ship and given ample supplies of food and drink. Horses, dogs, peacocks and goshawks were also sacrificed to accompany the deceased. The ship and contents were covered with a large mound of soil and peat. The ships found were from a period around 900 A.D. Other items found in these mounds were weapons, jewelry, harness fittings of iron, kitchen utensils, and various other household items.
We then traveled to the Kon Tiki museum. This museum houses the Kon Tiki -- Thor Heyerdahl’s balsa raft that became famous for its historic 101-day crossing of 4,970 miles from Peru to Raroia in Polynesia.
Oslo, what a wonderful city. It is both modern and old. We found it to be a walkable city with many attractions near the port. We went past the opera house and its very modern architecture, it is a very unique building. This would be a city we would re-visit.
Aalborg Highlights (Operated with Small Groups)
• 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Well, the day started off on a bad note, there was another water outage last night. We had to run the water for fifteen minutes in the morning in order to get clear water. Our shower was a trickle, so that should have let us know how the day was going to be. We had a tour for small groups. Wow, what a waste of money and time. The driver and guide took all ten of us in the un-air-conditioned van that had small seats and no ventilation. Both the driver and guide tried to fix the problem, but it was useless. So, we ventured on. Our first stop was at “the “historic allotment gardens” to learn about the popular cooperative style of gardening.” This was a stop at one small plot of land and we discussed the grain-based spirit Aquavit. The owner did not speak English and the guide only stated how nice everything looked. We did not learn about the popular cooperative style of gardening, it appeared we were only there so the owners could make some money.
Next we traveled to the former Viking city and visited the museum of Lidholm Hoje. This is a site that was buried under sand for hundreds of years until it was discovered in the mid-19th century. Since we were with a small group led by an experienced guide, I expected the guide to tell us about the area. All she did was show us the stones and told us if they were in a triangle then a man was buried there and if it was a circle, then a woman was buried in that plot. We went to the museum next to experience the Viking city and what was found at the site. Once again, I was mistaken in that our guide let us loose to read the non-English descriptions to learn about the city. I did see her walking around the museum reading all of the descriptions and looking like a tourist. We then climbed back on the hot van to travel back to the city where our ship awaits. Our guide felt that since we had some extra time prior to the “all aboard” we could see more of the city. We drove around until we came to an old cathedral. She said we could get out and look at the church from the outside and then we would go back to the ship. Once again, I took her at her word and waited in the van, but no! She decided to take the group on a walk around the old town for the next 30 minutes. So I waited for the group to return so we could all go back to the ship.
What a waste of time and money! This port should be eliminated from the itinerary. Most people got off the ship on their own and only stayed on shore for 30 to 60 minutes. There is not much to see here other than shops and restaurants.
Copenhagen by Canal and Coach
• 09:45 AM – 1:00 PM
What a difference a day makes. A beautiful sunny day in Copenhagen. Our tour started with our group in a nice motor coach, air conditioned and plenty of room between the seats. Our guide was very good today and told us of the many sights to see while in Copenhagen. First we went to the “Little Mermaid” site. This statue was erected to honor Hans Christian Anderson’s fair-tail of the same name. Our guide told us of the plight of the statue, the head was chopped off and never found. The people of Copenhagen treated this like a murder. While the new statue was being created, a TV screen was put in its place. During the night hours, it only displayed the internet site that was used for the display. Our guide said it was a long six months until the new statue was completed. We continued our drive around the city with our guide pointing out the various buildings of interest.
Our next stop was at St Alban’s Anglican Church. There we were able to see the church from the outside and also view Gerion Fountain, the largest fountain in Copenhagen. The fountain was completed in 1908 and depicts the ploughing scene from an old legend in Nordic mythology.
We also went to Amalienborg, the Royal Palace site. There we saw the buildings that make up this site. There are four identical buildings, each serve a different purpose. One is the Queen’s palace, another is the guest palace, the third is the junior prince’s palace and the fourth is the Prince’s palace. None of the royals were in residence so the flags were not flying. In the center of the square is the equestrian statue of King Frederic V, which took 18 years to complete. We went across the street and looked at the new Opera house across the canal. This is a modern building which looks very nice.
We continued our coach ride seeing many interesting buildings and churches. Borsen, the stock exchange has a very interesting spire. This is made up of four twisted dragon tails according to the king’s idea.
After a short while, we boarded a canal boat to tour the city via canal. This was a 50 – 60-minute ride through the canals of Copenhagen. Our tour guide on the boat was very good pointing out the buildings, bridges and various highlights. We traveled through Holmen canal, Nyhavn canal, and the Langelinje, which leads out to the large harbor where our ship was docked. This tour was informative and charming. At the end of our canal tour, we boarded the coach and traveled back to our ship.
Copenhagen is an attractive city with much to see and do. I wish we could have forgone our stop at Aalborg and spent two days here.
Highlights of Tallinn (Operated with Small Groups)
• 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM
A beautiful day in Tallinn. Sunny skies with no clouds and mid 70’s. We started our tour around 9:30 this morning with 15 people. The guide was good and gave us a brief history lesson on Estonia. We went to several places around the city on the bus with a few stops for pictures and discussion. Our first stop was at the song festival grounds. Raul explained the history and the meaning of the festival held every 5 years. We then drove around the beach region of Pirita. This is the area where the yachting competition for the 1980 Olympic games were held. That was the year the US did not participate due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. After that short visit, we traveled to Palace Square on Toompea Hill. The palace is where the Estonian Parliament resides. The castle is made up of several parts; the west wall and the tower are from the medieval times, the Government building is from the Czarist era (~1710) and the Riigikogu building and the courtyard were built in the 1920’s.
We visited two churches; Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church, and Gothic Dome Church (St Mary's Cathedral). After that, we walked around Old Town and Raul explained the various buildings and some history of the area. Once we got to the center square, Raul told us of the area and then we had some free time to wander around and see the sites. We stopped in a café and had some tea and ice cream. We then boarded the bus for the return trip to the ship.
This was a very nice tour and the guide, Raul is very good. We did leave one person behind, but that was planned so no harm. Great day, great tour, very nice city.
Catherine Palace & Pavlovsk (Paul's Palace)
• 8:15 AM – 4:00 PM
Another beautiful day! Sunny skies and warm, mid 70’2 to lower 80’s. We started our day with a breakfast at the Lido restaurant. What another experience, not anything like the Pinnacle. People pushing and just plain rude. The food, it was eatable, that’s all I can say.
We had to start early due to what we were told was a lengthy immigration process. Our tour was called around 7:30 and we left the ship to pass through immigration. Well, that was a breeze, all of the booths were open and no problems passing through. Got on the bus and started early due to the speed of immigration. To get to Catherine’s Palace, we first had to pass through St. Petersburg and then travel south. During our trip out of the city, our guide pointed out some of the buildings and significant places. We were about ten minutes from the palace when our bus broke down, well, after all we were in Russia. The driver and the guide were able to get us another bus that had just dropped off passengers at the palace so we were only delayed about 30 minutes.
Catherine’s Palace has been mostly restored after the Germans destroyed it during WW2. They used the palace as a headquarters and when it appeared they were losing the war, they burned the building. Some of the antiques and paintings were saved prior to the German occupation, but most had to be re-constructed and re-produced from pictures. The amber panels from the amber room have never been found, what is there today is a reproduction.
What a fantastic place, everything is stunning. We were able to see several rooms on the tour and we took many pictures. After visiting the inside, we then walked around the grounds to view the gardens.
We then lunched at a restaurant a few miles away from Catherine’s Palace. What a wonderful, hot, cramped place. The food wasn’t bad, it just had no taste. We were served boiled chicken and rice with a scope of ice cream for dessert. We also had a warm bottle of water. After that treat, we traveled to Pavlovsk, Paul’s Palace.
This was another example of a restored palace. All the rooms have been completed and they are spectacular. As with Catherine’s Palace, some of the art and antiques were saved from the Germans. The restored floors are the best. Very intricate patterns of wood inlay and marble.
We were able to get back to the ship and clean up and have a quick dinner before our next adventure, the Hermitage.
An Exclusive Evening at the Hermitage
• 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
We spent two and a half hours at the Hermitage. That’s enough time to see a few rooms or just one room. The museum is quite large and contains hundreds of works of art. Fortunately for us, our guide was very knowledgeable. He was a young engineering student that also loved art. We could tell he has a great passion for a number of the paintings. We saw all of the masters. Since this was an exclusive evening at the Hermitage, the crowds were gone and we were able to see a lot of different paintings. We were surprised there was no air conditioning. The building was very hot and we were all happy to get done and back on the bus. This is a place where you could spend days or weeks and not have enough time to see all of the artwork. We did get a glimpse of some of the best art in the world.
Imperial St Petersburg
• 8:45 AM – 5:30 PM
Another busy day! We started with breakfast at the Pinnacle, NOT, we had a quick breakfast at the Lido. Today the food was much worse. We tried the quick eggs and bacon station. The eggs were terrible and not eatable. So, off we went to the showroom to get our bus assignment for the day.
First we drove to Peter the Great’s summer Palace at Peterhof. We walked through the rooms at a quick pace and not stopping to really look at the various artifacts, art and furnishings. No picture taking is allowed inside, so there was nothing to slow us down! The palace is spectacular. All gold leaf and finely appointed rooms. We then went outside to view the fountains. They are turned on at 11:00 AM and it is a big production. After viewing the main event, we strolled the grounds and gardens. At noon, we boarded a hydrofoil to travel back to St. Petersburg. That was a very nice ride and only took about 30 minutes. We were able to sit in the front of the boat so the view was very good. After arriving back at St. Petersburg, we boarded the bus and were taken to lunch. The restaurant was a boat on the river. We had beef stroganoff and mashed potatoes. We were given a half glass of warm water with no refills. The food was very good and the restaurant was very hot.
After lunch, we were taken to a store to shop! I didn’t pay to be taken to shop and was very disappointed we all had to stop.
After shopping, we then traveled to the Church of the Resurrection (Church of the Spilled Blood). The church is built on the grounds where Frederick the First was assonated. This is a very decorative church. We spent about 30 minutes at the church (remember the shopping trip). Our guide took us into the church and explained several of the areas and significance. She then showed us the exit and said we could have about 10 minutes on our own inside. Once we were done, then go outside and try and find the bus. This was not the first time she left us to find her. I guess we should be glad we didn’t lose anyone.
We got back to the ship on time and got ready to sail away.
A busy two days in St. Petersburg. We will be in Helsinki Finland tomorrow and have a short day.
• 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Helsinki, the capital of Finland is a charming city that has many avant-garde buildings. Both old and new are blended into the city architecture.
Today we went on a short three-hour tour of Helsinki. The day was bright and not too hot, just right. Our first stop was at Senate Square. At the center of the square is a monument dedicated to Alexzander II of Russia. We found out the people of Finland still admire Alexander II because he was the one that guaranteed Finland their five rights which are; Peace, Science, Arts, Work and Justice. Around the square is the government building, the University, the University Library and the Lutheran Cathedral originally known as “the Nicholas Church”.
After that, we drove around the city to our next destination, the “Church on the Rock”. On our way, we saw many parks and open areas for the residents to enjoy. The church was completed in the late 1960’s. It is an underground church carved out of the large granite rock on which it is built. It is built in the round and has a huge dome formed by strips of copper and glazed concrete pillars. We stopped there and purchased some souvenirs at a small shop near the church.
We then drove past the Olympic Quarter and the main railway station, Central Station. The entrance of the railway station is highlighted by four monumental torch bearers. There is a large clock tower next to the station. At the Olympic Quarter, we saw the stadium and the swimming stadium. The Olympics were originally scheduled to be held in 1940, but due to the war, they were postponed until 1952.
Our final stop was at a park to view a monument to Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer. The monument is formed from more than five hundred stainless steel tubes brought together to resemble a giant organ. We were told that when this was revealed, most Finnish did not appreciate the work. We thought is was very nice and enjoyed the stop.
Historic Stockholm, Sigtuna & the Vasa Museum
• 8:45 AM – 4:00 PM
We arrived on schedule. Traveling through Archipelago was nice, but since we didn’t get up early, we were unable to see much prior to docking. We will have to view Archipelago once we depart.
Our tour took us to several places and stops in Stockholm. Our first stop was at the top of a hill with a vantage point that enabled us to see the city. From here we got a great view of the city and all of its diversity. We saw the amusement park, old town, government buildings, the Vasa museum and churches. Next we stopped at the Swedish Palace and walked around Old Town. We went to the main square where we saw city hall and old traditional stone houses. We viewed the Storkyrkan, a Gothic Cathedral built in the 12th century. We also saw the Nobel Museum (from the outside).
We next went to the Vasa Museum. This houses a galleon that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. When the ship was launched, all of its canon doors were open and because the ship was top heavy, water rushed in and the ship sank just 1.300 meters from the launch site. Because the water in this area in not very salty, the ship was preserved to almost original. This was the largest warship built in Sweden at the time. The ship had ten sails and carried 64 cannons. It was highly decorated with carved sculptures and brightly painted features. The stern of the ship has a highly carved coat of arms and figureheads. Numerous objects were recovered when the ship was salvaged. This was a very interesting stop and we had enough time to see most of the exhibits.
We traveled to Sigtuna for lunch and a walk around the town. We had lunch at a small hotel and conference center. We had salad, chicken and vegetables. For dessert, we had chocolate cake. Lunch was very good and we had a good time talking with fellow travelers. After lunch, we walked through Sigtuna. This is the oldest town in Sweden. Our first stop was at St. Olaf’s’ ruin. This was the first church built in Sigtuna. Across the way stands the new church, built about one hundred years after the first church. We were able to go inside the working church. We then went on a short tour of the city and were given 30 minutes of free time to wander and see the sights. Most of us took all of 15 minutes and returned to the bus. Not much to see in this small town.
We departed Stockholm at 6:00 PM. We were able to view the Archipelago area when we sailed away. This is an area made up of 24,000 islands. Many of the islands are inhabited and most are full of trees. Most of the houses on the islands are summer homes. Some of the islands have hotels and welcome guests for the summer. There is an art gallery and an old fort on the islands.
Best of Berlin by Motor Coach
• 6:30 AM – 7:30 PM
Our last shore excursion. We traveled to Berlin today. It was a 3-hour bus trip into the city. The country side was nice and there was some birds and deer roaming the pastures. Germany has a lot of wheat and barley fields. There were many species of trees along the road and some rolling hills. Our bus guide, Dorothy was very good, she talked for a little while and explained the day. She discussed the country and then let us settle in for the long ride. We had a breakfast snack on the bus that was a butter stuffed pretzel.
Once we arrived in Berlin, we picked up the city guide, Stephanie. We traveled through the city to our first stop, the Allied Museum. The Museum is normally closed on Monday, but they opened it for our tour. Our bus was the only visitors at the museum during the time we were there. The museum was established on June 27th 1998, the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. It contains thousands of objects, documents and photographs. We saw a British plane used during the airlift, the original “Checkpoint Charlie” structure, the library and the movie theater. They have made the library and the theater into small museums displaying articles from the time of occupation. In the library, we saw a piece of the tunnel the CIA had built into Soviet territory.
Our next stop was at the Berlin wall. This is an impressive outdoor museum. Next to the wall is the foundation of the Gestapo headquarters. The building was built in 1901 to 1905 to house a school of industrial arts and crafts. The German Secret State Police took over the building in 1933 and resided there until 1945. In 1933, the Gestapo set up a “house prison” for Germans that did not conform to the Nazi regime. The building was bombed several times during the war but survived. In 1953-1954, the building was partially demolished and the remainder was blown up in 1956.
We then continued to another photo stop at the location of the original “Checkpoint Charlie”. This has become a very commercial area with “actors” dressed as American soldiers that will for a fee, allow you to pose with them for a picture opportunity. I felt they disgraced our service men and woman.
Lunch was on the agenda next. We stopped at a nice restaurant in central Berlin. There was so much food! We had sliced pork and gravy, meatballs, sausage with sauerkraut, different types of potato and assorted vegetables. The best lunch we have had on this trip, including all the lunches on the ship. We spent a little over an hour at lunch.
We continued to travel and see the city highlights. Our next stop was at the Brandenburg Gate. The gate was built in 1791 according to architectural plans by Carl Gotthard Langhans. This was only a photo stop. In this area are the French and American Embassies. This was only a short photo stop, but we had enough time to take pictures and walk around the area. We made another quick stop at the Reichstag. This was built in 1884 – 1894 by plans from architect Paul Wallot in the Italian renaissance style. The center glass dome is spectacular. We also had a short stop at the Victory Column. The “Golden Else” sits atop of the column.
We had a short shopping stop and then went to our rendezvous point to drop off Stephanie and prepare for our journey back to the ship.
What a great country and tour. Read Less